CINCINNATI — A new division of Ohio’s Department of Homeland Security will work to combat school shootings and other acts of violence against students.
Governor Mike DeWine announced the Ohio School Safety Center (OSSC) will assist local schools and law enforcement in “preventing, preparing for and responding to threats and acts of violence.”
“Having one office where the staff solely focuses on keeping our students safe and our schools secure will allow analysts to nimbly assess threats, proactively address potential issues and expertly train and support school faculty in a more streamlined manner,” DeWine said Wednesday.
Besides focusing on keeping schools safe from acts of mass violence, part of the division’s plan is to prevent student self-harm. Nationally, suicide is the second-leading cause of death of people ages 10-34.
Cincinnati Public Schools Superintendent Laura Mitchell applauded the new safety center initiative in a statement Wednesday, citing CPS efforts to promote a “positive school culture” using mental health agencies and “positive behavior intervention.”
“CPS is one of the only districts in the state to have a mental health partner servicing every one of our schools,” Mitchell said. “The CPS School Safety Task Force is comprised of local law enforcement and safety officials, and advised the district on best practices to improve the safety and security of our schools.”
CPS Board Member Mike Moroski similarly supported the governor’s plan and his work on red flag laws, which limit at-risk individuals’ ability to buy firearms.
“But I think there are two or three other things that are legislative in nature and maybe a couple others that'll need to be part of this package for changes to be made,” Moroski said.
On Wednesday, DeWine released several goals for the OSSC, which will be based in Columbus and will review approximately 5,500 school emergency management plans annually.
Those goals are:
- Promote the SaferOH Tip Line
OSSC will aim to get more people using the SaferOH Tip Line, where callers can submit anonymous reports of school safety concerns or threats to violence. These reports are forwarded to local school officials and law enforcement. The free tipline accepts calls or texts at 844-SAFEROH or 844-723-3764.
- ‘Proactively scan’ social media and websites for threats
OSSC intelligence analysts will use “enhanced technology to identify threat language” in social media posts. After they identify a threat, the OSSC would “immediately conduct a threat analysis” and pass along the information with local law enforcement and school officials. Analysts would not monitor specific individuals.
- Review emergency plans, implement threat assessment team training
OSSC staff members plan to “review and assess emergency management plans” and provide technical assistance to help schools strengthen safety strategies. OSSC staff will also provide a model policy, a free training program and guidance for schools that have a threat assessment team.
- Consolidate safety resources to one website
The new saferschools.ohio.gov will include resources on school safety from various state agencies including state departments of public safety, education, higher education, mental health and addiction services, health and the state fire marshal’s office.
- Host an annual school safety summit
The OSSC would also host a yearly conference “where school safety, public safety, and mental health professionals can share best practices, training, and resources with schools and community leaders from across the state.”
DeWine also created the Ohio School Safety Working Group, made up of public safety and education experts that will meet to discuss current issues in school safety and develop an annual state school safety report.